August 2019 – Gary Gregor – Suicide at the Mackworth Hotel, 1816

This month’s lecture was given local Historian by Gary Gregor.

The lecture began with a portrait of Swansea before the railways and docks had been established – a Regency town where most of the shoreline consisted of sand burrows. A time when Swansea had pretensions of becoming the Brighton of Wales. The Hafod Copperworks had been founded in 1810.

The Mackworth Hotel in Green Dragon Lane lay on the mail coach route from London to West Wales. On Wednesday, October 9th 1816, the mail coach left Bristol with Fanny Imlay on board. Upon arrival at the Mackworth, she booked a room and was later found dead from an overdose of Laudanum. The account of her death was published by ‘The Cambrian’ the following Friday.

Fanny Imlay was the illegitimate daughter of the British feminist Mary Wollstonecraft and the somewhat shady American commercial speculator and diplomat Gilbert Imlay. Her parents had met in Paris in 1792 at the time of the French Revolution and Francois, or Fanny as she was known, was born in Le Havre in 1794. Imlay deserted her mother who then returned to London. After a failed suicide attempt, Wollstonecraft became part of the Wordsworth, Coleridge and Priestley circle. Here she met and married the philosopher Godwin. She died in 1794, shortly after giving birth to their daughter Mary.

Godwin continued to care for the two girls, remarrying Mary Clairmont in 1801, herself a single mother with two children. She proved to be a harsh stepmother and the family struggled with debt. The arrival of Percy Bysshe Shelley on the scene created mayhem. He abandoned his pregnant wife in 1814 and eloped to the Continent with Mary Godwin and her step-sister Claire Clairmont. When they returned to London later that year, Fanny Imlay found herself the unfortunate intermediary between the two warring households of Godwin and Shelley.

Her mother’s sisters, who ran a boarding school in Dublin, then rejected her application for a post. Thereafter, Fanny travelled to Swansea. Following her suicide Shelley arrived in Swansea to
successfully suppress the matter – no name is mentioned in the Inquest. Fanny is buried in St Johns Church (now St Matthews) in the City.

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